The human price of asbestos in the UK

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asbestos

Industrial workers have been plagued by many work-related illnesses and injuries for centuries. Asbestos is the root of many present-day respiratory diseases caused by its the widespread use in the 20th century. British industrial workers are most at risk for contracting these conditions,  often decades after exposure to asbestos fibres. Most notable of these conditions are mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Asbestosis symptoms make breathing difficult during routine tasks and is often accompanied by chest pain and coughing. Many people live for years with this non-lethal condition, though it does increase in severity over time. Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer that is only caused by asbestos exposure. After diagnosis, the disease almost invariably claims its victim within two years. There are no known cures for either.

With so many British citizens in danger of developing a disease caused by asbestos exposure, it was only a matter of time before families began asking for compensation.

Turning a blind eye to the dangers of asbestos

Before the turn of the 20th century, the UK government was made aware of asbestos’ health effects. By 1924, the first case of asbestos-related death was recorded. In 1965, scientists finally confirmed the link between asbestos inhalation and cancer, now referred to as mesothelioma. It was well-documented as a Type 1 carcinogen, but many employers continued to expose their workers to asbestos through the 1970s.

Though asbestos was officially banned outright from the UK in 1999, many employees today still fail to provide safe working environments with asbestos materials still present. In fact, between 2002 and 2010, 128 British school teachers died from mesothelioma. Seventy-five percent of schools in the UK contain asbestos, and due to recent education budget cuts, it’s likely that buildings in need of proper asbestos maintenance are lacking.

Difficulties tracking down responsible parties

Due to asbestos’ prevalence and incredibly versatile composition, asbestos was used in a great many materials, and workers weren’t often warned of the perils of their jobs. Workers were also not typically offered sufficient protective measures, though employers had been made aware of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure.

According to a 2004 independent study, over 2,000 UK citizens die each year from illnesses contracted by asbestos exposure. Symptoms of asbestos-based respiratory illnesses can take years – even decades – to appear, making it incredibly difficult to track. It is not unheard of for multiple insurance companies to be successfully held accountable for a single claim. However, many relevant companies have either gone bankrupt or their records for insurance are incredibly difficult to trace.

Compensation for asbestos victims

Passing of The Mesothelioma Act

As of 2015, the NHS believed that around 300 Britons encountered difficulty in finding a suitable party to file damage claims against, so The Mesothelioma Act was passed specifically for this situation. Mesothelioma sufferers diagnosed after July 2012 – or the families of those who passed from the illness – who could not trace a liable employer or the insurer of said employer were encouraged to step forward.  As of March 2015, the estimate for payouts hovered around £32 million, paid by eligible insurance companies based on their relative market share.

Packages average £134,000 per victim. Initially, 800 British citizens were paid during the first year and taking into account the 5,000 deaths and 300 new applicants each year (until 2024), insurers will be expected to pay more than £600 million per annum. The new applicants will be paid until the year 2024. This means that UK insurance industry alone may be expected to handle asbestos-related claims in the amount of £4-£10 billion over the next decade, half of which are estimated to be mesothelioma-affiliated.

Other compensation via the British government

The London law firm Norton Rose analysed various newsletters to determine that workplace mesothelioma payouts averaged nearly £100,000. In addition to payouts from employers, many citizens are eligible for payments through one of several government actions.

  • The Pneumoconiosis etc.(Workers’ Compensation) Act of 1979 provides lump sum payouts to British workers (and their dependents) who contracted dust-related diseases, including mesothelioma, pleural thickening and asbestosis. Average costs for these payments are £18,000 paid by the government.
  • The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act (2008) continues to provide lump sum payments to those suffering from mesothelioma, whether the illness was caused through employment or not. Typically, payments can be expected to average £20,000 per person or £9.4 million between 2013 and 2014.
  • Many sufferers of asbestos exposure receive multiple benefits via the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits (IIDB).

NHS bills set to rise for asbestos victims

The NHS estimates that the treatment of each asbestos victim costs upwards of £60,000 per year, and with over 5,000 casualties per year, £300 million per year is a low estimate for the care given to patients. Though the expected lifespan of patients after a mesothelioma diagnosis averages two years, the advance of medical treatment shows a promising increase in lifespan. This will naturally increase individual medical costs, perhaps as much as £100,000.

In all, experts believe that the use of asbestos continues to cost the UK economy as much as £970 million per year based on NHS, missed work, unemployment, and benefits figures.

Other benefits of asbestos legislation in Britain

The Control of Asbestos Regulations of 2012 requires all British employers to provide adequate training for each employee who may be exposed to asbestos during their working hours. Be sure that your asbestos awareness courses are recognised by UKATA, an HSE-recognised professional body which standardises asbestos training and monitors asbestos awareness courses across the UK.

What are category A, B and C asbestos awareness courses?

In the United Kingdom, there are currently three training categories available:

  • Asbestos awareness training (also known as Category A) instructs professionals who might encounter asbestos-based products during their working day.
  • Non-licensable work with asbestos (Category B) informs tradespeople who might disturb asbestos-based products during their working day.
  • Licensable work with asbestos (Category C) instructs asbestos removal employees on the proper equipment and techniques to carry out licensed asbestos work.

 

Learn more about Bainbridge UKATA Asbestos Awareness Training courses online!